Finding the silver(ish) lining in Afghanistan's Emerald City

@ISAFMedia and the Taliban Get Twitterpated, and Senator Lieberman Receives the First-Ever Team America All Star Nod

Joe Lieberman, official photo.

ISAF and the Taliban having it out on Twitter is one of those things (like Justin Bieber 3D movies, Teletubbies, and whether Kim’s marriage was real) that will never get old. I DVR’d that wedding, and it just tears me up to think that those kids can’t patch up their 72-days of forever. So this recent tweet (along with Senator Joe Lieberman…more on him later) helped renew my interest in the story.

ISAF’s slapfest with the Taliban on Twitter has been well-documented over the last 100 days or so, and I myself have contributed to this most vital of conversations about the war in Afghanistan. Some would argue that it’s been documented ad nauseum. Not sure why they would argue that, since a story like this about a non-conflict as subtext to any kind of larger issues here in Afghanistan needs to be told. And told again. Then there’s this little nugget, in which @ISAFMedia gets the “win.”

That “winning” is illustrated by this tweet response to Mullah Omar (his actual Twitter account, I’m sure… ask Homa Sultani):

Still want to know more? Then @StrickVL has your fix. (Fair warning: he deals a lot in “facts,” something that makes me just plain uncomfortable). Those that argue that this sort of story gets far more coverage than it deserves are the same people who accept without question concepts like a round earth, gravity, and the inevitability of Cubs fans having lots of free time in October. I call these people skeptics.

I choose not to associate myself with that particular lot, preferring the company of people who doubt the moon landing, will debate whether the world is indeed flat (thank you, Sherri Shepherd, for being a scion of truth and justice), and wage war to save Christmas. That’s the kind of war I want to cover, that’s the kind of war I want to hear about, and apparently American news organizations agree with me. Actual wars are depressing, but culture wars make it all better again.

Which is why I’m nominating  Senator Joe Lieberman as the once and future “King of Everything,” and the first-ever to receive my “Team America All Star Award.”  There’s no reason I wouldn’t sign over my firstborn to the senior Senator from Connecticut. He’s doggedly fighting that two-party system, proudly flying that “I” after his name like it’s the Congressional Stars and Bars. He’s a rebel who knows his rebellions, and he knows how to stop them, too: take away their Twitter accounts.

In true Twitter fashion, some responded poorly:

Others simply questioned the issue:

One narrow minded soul had this to say:

Lieberman’s just jealous because the Taliban has more Twitter followers than he does.

For those of you just joining us at home, in Afghanistan, two of the main Twitter (English language, that is…the official language of truly diabolical terrorists) accounts attributed to the Taliban are @Abalkhi and @Alemarahweb. There are some others, but they primarily just pull in what @Alemarahweb has to say and repeat it verbatim.

Based on their tweets, and those who retweet them in support, there are those who think that ISAF’s just here seize tractors. Or support underage recruiting of girls by the Afghan National Police. Or establish methods of law enforcement without the knowledge or consent of the Afghan government. These people are also skeptics, and if questioned, they’ll usually attribute this skepticism to in-depth reading of ISAF’s daily operational updates and observations of ISAF’s operations in general.

Generally speaking, @Alemarahweb appears to be an automated Twitter account that’s just tweeting excerpts from one of several Taliban websites. There doesn’t seem to be any conversation between @Alemarahweb and @ISAFMedia. If there is, it’s one-sided, with @ISAFMedia commenting on @Alemarahweb’s tweets. Still, to @ISAFMedia’s credit, they continue to respond, implementing that most successful of Twitter campaigns: a one-sided flame war.

The other account, @ABalkhi, appears to be a more active account, generating some truly great Twitter discussions over the last few weeks. Since I’m just now realizing there’s something called “Storify,” I expect I’ll be using that in the future, but for now, bear with the copy/paste.

I suspect I’m missing some things in this list, but it’s not meant to be exhaustive. “Exhaustive” implies a certain amount of journalistic integrity. I’m not a journalist — just some dude in the cheap seats with an internet connection.

From early in the exchange, there’s this, the only that really started it all:

Things quickly found their intellectual level:

More of the same. I’m especially enamored with the “dumb dumb” exchange.

I keep PDFs of their witty banter right next to my copies of Garfield books. Sometimes Garfield and Nermal’s existentialist banter gets tiresome, so I have to shift gears.

Read the @ABalkhi and @ISAFMedia exchanges through a cynical eye and they appear to be about as intellectually challenging as the triple dog dare from A Christmas Story. Which, given the palatable notion that the Taliban are just a bunch of uneducated subhumans who agree with Eric Zoolander that the files are in the computer, seems about right. Naysayers would argue that @ABalkhi is operating at a level of debate usually reserved for middle school detention, or that they don’t represent the Taliban at all:

Based on another glance at Mr. Strick’s website,  which seems to be overly burdened with in depth analysis and information, I think he’s wrong. The true genius of ISAF’s campaign is that they’re in such lockstep with Lieberman and the Department of Homeland Security: any threat, no matter how ridiculous, must be addressed with extreme prejudice. In support of that, there’s this from ISAF:

Though it’s unknown who exactly runs the accounts, “those are the two main accounts we track that we believe have some tie to the Taliban,” the ISAF representative said.

In keeping with the finest DHS/TSA traditions, ISAF’s countering messaging based on beliefs about “some tie.” This kind of near-evidece and suspicion is crucial to winning the war on terror: If we let some 8th grader with an internet connection continue to repeat what’s being reported by an automated Twitter feed that’s only read by a fraction of the public, there’s no telling what that sort of unchecked brigandish behavior would do to the American psyche. As a public, Americans don’t really care about the war in Afghanistan, so by reporting on the 140 characters of COIN that ISAF’s media team is dishing out, the American media’s able to report on something Americans do care about, and, as a bonus, do so from the comfort and safety of a little place known as “Anywhere-but-Afghanistan.”

So here’s to Senator Lieberman thank you for keeping this story alive, no matter how much so-called reasonable people would love to see it die. Way to stand strong! You are today’s Team America All-Star!

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